As the job search intensifies around campus (including for yours truly), I’ve often wondered about the effectiveness of resumes. Sure, I can use a few buzz words that your computer-aided screening software might use to get me an actual interview, but what if I could show you what I was actually capable of?
Enter the portfolio.
After high school, I had a couple of friends attend The Evergreen State College. I remember giving these friends lots of flak because they were going to a school that didn’t have grades – instead, they graduated with a portfolio of their work including evaluations from peers and professors.
As students prepare for graduation, they work with a faculty advisor to create a Summative Self-Evaluation, reflecting on their entire undergraduate experience, and their achievement of their own learning goals. And students evaluate their faculty, as well. Evaluations are an important part of the learning experience, and students receive support from their faculty and from Academic Advising as they learn to reflect on and articulate their experience.
Back then, this seemed like a strange idea and a tough sell when it came to getting a job. Now, I wish that I were graduating with a Summative Self-Evaluation and thorough portfolio. I would much rather show a potential employer what I can do than hand over my resume.
Employers are looking to see whether you can successfully make the transition from the relatively sheltered environment of the classroom and academia to the “real world.” Being able to point to tangible examples makes convincing them much, much easier.
Employers want to see that you can finish what you start, work in a team, communicate effectively, and that maybe you’re a little creative. Especially if you’re meeting in a job fair type of environment, you need something to set you apart (and tie choices really aren’t cutting it, these days). A portfolio can do just that.
Envisioning Your Portfolio
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: you don’t have to be an artist or a designer to have a portfolio. If you’ve done anything, ever, you can have a portfolio that accurately and confidently portrays your work.
Obviously, everyone’s portfolio is going to be different. This, after all, is the point. But let’s envision, together, a portfolio might look like for someone coming out of the MS in Information Management program.
To start, your portfolio should be online. Better, of course, if it can be “yourname.com,” but yourname.wordpress.com or something equivalent should be fine. There are many great platforms on which to build such a site, including WordPress, Drupal, and Concrete5. These are free, easy to use, and produce great results.
Secondly, it should be diverse, and polished. Your portfolio is your chance to show both your projects, and your whole self. It should also prove that you can write complete sentences, proof-read, and use punctuation properly.
One thing your portfolio is not is your Facebook page:
- Pictures are fine. Drinking pictures are not.
- Non-technical prose is totally acceptable. Text-speak is not.
- Templates, designs, and flare is okay, in moderation. Anything that has ever been on anyone’s MySpace page is not.
There should be some overlap between your portfolio and your resume. It’s perfectly acceptable to list your educational background and even some employment background in your portfolio.
It should also contain things that give employers a sense of what you can actually do. Build a website for a class? Include a screenshot or link. Write a great paper about your favorite tech topic? Post a PDF. Participate in a conference or event? Pictures, videos, or links to your appearance can be very convincing.
Finally, your portfolio can be a living document. Unlike a resume, it’s okay to make changes at any time. Did you do something you’d like to include? Has something change and you’d like to take it out? Go right ahead – the portfolio is yours to sculpt as you see fit.
Why Not LinkedIn?
Tools like LinkedIn are designed for networking purposes, and everybody’s LinkedIn page looks the same. Your portfolio should convey your strengths as an individual, and some of your own individuality. I’m not saying that you must hand-code a new theme that nobody else has ever used. By all means, use a theme, even a popular one. But use your portfolio as a space to sell yourself to anyone who might come across it. Show them what you’re capable of, and why you’d be an asset to their team.
So, next time you meet with a potential employer, hand over your resume, but also tell them that they can check out your portfolio online. It’s a one-two punch for the win, and the job.